PLATTSBURGH — Clinton County legislators are backing a plan to provide daily air service from Plattsburgh International Airport to Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.
Flights to Paris could also be on the horizon.
"We are so excited for this," Legislator Robert Hall (D-Area 10, City of Plattsburgh), chairman of the county's Airport Committee, said about the service to Washington.
"This is going to open up so many more connecting flights and will be so much better for people."
If approved by the federal Department of Transportation, Sky West, a subsidiary of United Airlines, will begin operating daily flights to Washington in June.
The flights would be on 50-seat regional jets, as opposed to the 35-seat propeller airplanes that now fly daily from Plattsburgh to Boston under the Pen Air flag.
Sky West, with its code-share connections with United, American, Delta Airlines and Alaskan Air, is expected to offer easier service for those seeking connecting flights from Washington and beyond.
"You can get to just about anywhere from Dulles," Hall said.
The county received six bids in the competition to award federal Essential Air Service funds, which are designed to aid airports in communities with smaller populations.
Four offered service to Boston, including one from Pen Air, which has been operating flights to Boston from Plattsburgh the past two years.
One bid was to Charlotte, N.C, and the other was from Sky West to Washington.
County Deputy Administrator Rodney Brown said the Sky West proposal was the lowest bid for EAS money and provided the best option.
Brown said a detailed analysis of the region, conducted by Volaire Aviation, showed that people in the vicinity of Plattsburgh International Airport, including Montreal, Burlington and Upstate New York, preferred Washington over Boston by a wide margin.
"Based on that study, we believe that Washington will be a much more attractive and more utilized service than Boston," Brown said.
"People preferred Washington over Boston by about 2 to 1."
Brown said customer complaints about Boston included late arrival times, more difficulty in getting connecting flights and having to leave the Pen Air terminal and go through security again before getting on a connecting flight.
"People just don't like that," he said.
Hall said the county tried several times to get Pen Air to change its flight schedule, but the airline would not do that.
The six bids were the most the county has ever received for EAS contracts, and Brown said the recent expansion of the airport and the ongoing upgrades are a big reason for more interest from airlines.
"The most bids we ever had before was three," he said.
"There now is certainly much more focus on this airport from airlines who are realizing that this market can support a service that was not recognized previously."
Legislators agreed at their meeting Wednesday night to back the Sky West plan and will now await approval from DOT, which is expected to occur in mid February.
If approved, the plan will provide Sky West with $6,743,790 in federal funding for two years.
Fares for one-way trips from Plattsburgh to Washington are expected to be about $105, Hall said.
Flights to Boston from Plattsburgh would range from $64 to $159.
Although the flight schedule had yet to be worked out, Airport Manager Chris Kreig said to expect two departures and two arrivals from Washington Monday through Friday and one departure and one arrival on Saturday and Sundays.
City of Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read said the jets Sky West would be using for the flights are CRJ200, made by Bombardier with a range of about 1,500 miles.
Brown said the airport has lost many travelers who prefer to fly out of Burlington, Montreal or Albany rather than deal with the difficult Boston connections.
"I'm sure Sky West will recoup a lot of those lost flights," he said.
Kreig called the data "critical" from Volaire that looked at the destinations of those buying tickets.
"Within 90 minutes of Plattsburgh there are about 4 million people who could potentially fly out of here, and it was very telling where the opportunities were," he said.
"This is a huge victory for the North Country."
EYE ON PARIS
Hall said adding service to the nation's capital could be just one of many bright spots for the airport in the immediate future.
With work expected to be complete on the federal customs inspection station there, the area will be able to host international flights.
Paris, France, is a big target, Hall said, as their consultant study showed that as many as 10,000 people fly to Paris from Montreal per day.
"That's a staggering statistic," Hall said.
Brown said it is entirely feasible that an airline would be able to tap into that market for Paris flights from Plattsburgh.
"You don't have to capture a whole lot of that market to make it work, but we just have to find an airline to do it," he said.
Hall said the $15,000 the county paid Voltaire for the feasibility study was well worth it.
"We're still hoping to get a hotel out there, and we have the renovations going on ... I think you are going to see a lot of good things at the airport real soon," he said.
Legislature Chairman Harry McManus (D-Area 1, Champlain) said the area has been waiting for flights to a market like Washington since the airport opened in 2007.
He credited former Legislators Robert Heins and Jimmy Langley, who also chaired the Airport Committee, for making the airport a viable transportation venue for the region.
"And our airport manager, Chris Kreig, deserves a lot of credit, too," McManus said.
Garry Douglas, president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, which markets the airport for the county, said the news was a historic milestone for the facility.
"It's a real game-changer for all elements of our market, including business, tourism, colleges and our Quebec friends," he said.
"Congratulations to everyone on the airport team."
Douglas said federal support for the EAS program from Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-Willsboro) and Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, was also key, as was the state's willingness to pledge $38 million to the county for airport upgrades.
Stefanik said news of the Washington flights was tremendous.
"The Essential Air Service is a critical program for rural areas like ours, and I've been proud to advocate on its behalf in Congress," she said.
"With Plattsburgh International Airport expanding service to Dulles, our region will be connected to more commercial opportunities, and tourism in our area will be expanded."
"SkyWest Airlines is excited about the opportunity to provide new daily United Express jet service between Plattsburgh and Washington Dulles Airport," the airline's spokesperson, McKall Morris said in a statement.
"This new daily service utilizing the 50-seat Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ200) would provide an exceptional option for Plattsburgh passengers through Washington Dulles and its hundreds of connecting United Airlines flights beyond.
"We look forward to the DOT’s decision regarding Plattsburgh air service."
Legislator Simon Conroy (D-Area 4, Town of Plattsburgh) said getting flights to Washington was "incredible news for Plattsburgh, Clinton County and Northeast New York."
"This is the home run we've been waiting for," he said.
"This will open up the whole world for everyone around here."
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